Once again, the Charlotte City Council is talking streetcars. It's a topic that has dominated even those meetings when it wasn't on the council's agenda. Monday night it actually is.
City manager Ron Carlee will offer a new plan designed to break the council's impasse and kick start the next two-mile stretch of streetcar connecting east and west Charlotte through Uptown.
The city council knew Carlee was a streetcar fan when they hired him. He actually proposed one in the Virginia county he used to manage. And he believes streetcars can revitalize parts of a city, if done right.
Monday night, we'll get Carlee's take on what "right" means for Charlotte's streetcar. One thing he's already made clear: the streetcar will not be on the list the city is looking to fund by raising property taxes.
"To propose that for the streetcar would violate commitments people believe that they've made to the voters," says Carlee.
He's referring to a divisive debate nearly a decade ago when Charlotte voters approved a special half-cent sales tax to fund a new transit system. That tax was supposed to be enough to build a light rail from north to south, a streetcar east to west and a commuter rail line to northern Mecklenburg County. But we're not even halfway through the plan and already the half-cent sales tax is tapped out.
That's why the city council started looking at tackling the streetcar piece by raising property taxes, instead. It was a non-starter for most of them – including Councilman Michael Barnes who has some doubts about the new plan Carlee will propose tonight. It's likely to entail cobbling together enough existing money in the city's budget to qualify for a matching federal grant.
"I think it's problematic because there are a lot of things people want us to do and expect us to do from say, building sidewalks to improving some intersections, that we haven't been able to do, even though we apparently have capacity in our budget to do it," says Barnes.
Using that money for a streetcar "would cause a good bit of concern among the general public," says Barnes. He thinks a better alternative is to raise the existing transit sales tax by another half-cent.
That is among the key preliminary recommendations from a task force of local elected officials trying to solve the city's transit-funding quandary.